Are We Falling Out Of Love With Tablets?

Q2 2014 heralded an important milestone for the tablet device; for the first time, the proportion of adults aged 16-64 using one to access the internet hit the 33% mark. That’s more than 500 million monthly tablet users across the 32 markets surveyed by GlobalWebIndex. So, all’s looking rosy in the tablet garden, then? 

Well, not quite. Drill down into the numbers a little further and it’s clear that the rate of growth has been slowing for some time now. Between 2011 and 2012, the percentage accessing the internet via tablets nearly doubled (from 9% to 17%). By 2013, it had jumped again to reach 31%. But over the last 12 months, a very different picture emerges: tablet usage has climbed by just two percentage points. Still rising, then, but hardly the type of explosive growth to which we’ve become accustomed. In fact, year-on-year increases in user numbers have dropped from +200% at the start of the decade to just +15% in 2014. 

So, if the boom days for tablets are over, what’s driving this? Examining the profile of current users gives us the best evidence: among early adopters, usage has either stagnated or is in decline. In contrast, it’s the groups who were initially quite slow to embrace tablets who are now driving today’s modest growth levels.

If we look at age, for example, it’s 25-34s who are the heaviest users (38% in Q2 2014), followed by 35-44s and then the 16-24s. But there’s been no substantial growth in any of these three groups over the last year. It’s only among 45-54s and 55-64s – where historical usage levels have been much lower – that we’re still seeing increases.

It’s a similar story for income. Although the popularity of tablets among the top group remains strong (over half are monthly users), there’s actually been a decrease in engagement during the last 12 months. Yes, numbers are still rising in the lower and middle quartiles but this is still a pretty crucial trend: with wealthier demographics having been the heaviest initial adopters of tablets, it suggests that long-term owners are using their devices less frequently than they once did.

Patterns at a national level add more support for this. The Chinese market is by far the biggest and most important for tablets; it was extremely quick to embrace the device, with 41% of adults now using them (corresponding to a mighty 192 million people). However, there’s been a 7% year-on-year decrease in usage. While this shouldn’t detract from the fact that the numbers are still ticking upwards in most other countries (even if rather modestly, in some places), the fact that Chinese usage is on the slide suggests – once again – that early tablet users are no longer quite as enthused with the devices as they once were.

We can reinforce this view by looking at tablet behaviours – i.e., what people are actually doing on their devices. Here, there’s a pretty consistent story of decline; across all but two of the 37 online activities monitored by GlobalWebIndex, the proportions of tablet users who said they’d done them in Q2 2014 were lower than the equivalent figures from Q2 2013. Put simply, tablet users are less likely to be doing a range of things online now than they were a year ago; tablets have increasingly become a nice-to-have rather than an essential device, with many existing owners struggling to find a use for them. 

Of course, some perspective is essential here. The number of owners is continuing to increase. And it’s not that tablets are being abandoned altogether; it’s still nearly two-thirds who are doing things like watching video clips or using webmail, for example. Rather, it’s that – after the initial novelty of having a tablet has worn off – the devices stop dominating internet activities in the way they typically do in the early period of ownership. People return to a much more multi-device approach. 

But the big concern has to be this: while our love affair with tablets is no longer burning quite so brightly, it’s still going strong with smartphones (nearly 7 in 10 adults are now accessing the internet via a mobile and most behaviours on these devices are either stable or trending upwards). Clearly, then, one of the biggest future challenges for tablets will be to prevent smartphones from pushing further ahead and, in the process, diminishing the need for a tablet.

Next story loading loading..